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1993 - PMQT 26th October 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 26th October 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Meale : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 26 October.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Meale : In relation to the Bilsthorpe colliery disaster, in the light of new photographic evidence which refutes the report of the health and safety inspectorate into that disaster, will the Prime Minister now agree to a full public inquiry, as soon as possible, that is open to the public so that we can get over the whole of this nonsense which shows the difficulties that are hitting the coalfield communities of Britain?

Mr. Major : I have not seen the photographic evidence to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I will certainly look at that photographic evidence and examine it. I believe that there has been a substantial inquiry. None the less, I will examine it and be in touch with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Butcher : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the major impediments to reducing unemployment across Europe is high wage costs--not to be confused with high wages? We must continually draw a distinction between the high cost of employment loaded on top of paying high wages. Will he continue his efforts diplomatically within Europe to ensure that we in Britain win the argument that there is no contradiction between paying people high wages and seeking to reduce the costs of employing people generally?

Mr. Major : I agree with my hon. Friend about that. I believe that that view is increasingly being taken by Governments and by employers right the way across western Europe and elsewhere. There is no doubt that the higher the sum total of costs, the larger the resultant level of unemployment will be both in Europe and elsewhere. At present, there are 18 million citizens unemployed across Europe. Estimates are that in Europe as a whole that may be 20 million in a year or so. We all need to look to see how we can get those costs down and people back in work.

Mr. John Smith : I am sure that the Prime Minister is well aware of the revulsion and outrage felt throughout the whole of the nation when it learned of the appalling tragedy of Saturday's bombing in Belfast. The violent and horrific aftermath, which has cost even more lives today, can only deepen and reinforce those feelings. Is it not absolutely clear that the response that the House of Commons must give to those who seek to impose their will by the bomb or the bullet is that they will not succeed in undermining this nation's total commitment to the democratic process?

Mr. Major : I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for making that clear. The whole House will agree with him in those sentiments, as I do without reservation. The perpetrators of sectarian violence have committed cold-blooded and premeditated murder. Let me say to the House that they will be hunted down and they will be subject to the full severity of the law. That applies equally to those responsible for the outrage in the Shankill road and to those responsible for the murders in west Belfast just a few hours ago. Such murders will have one effect and one effect only : they will deepen the bloodshed through revenge killings, and there will be more deaths, more misery and more years before Northern Ireland can return to the peaceful democratic future that everyone in the House wishes to see it have.


Q2. Mr. Bellingham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 26 October.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave a few moments ago.

Mr. Bellingham : Is the Prime Minister aware that many Conservative Members were extremely pleased that he raised the question of the general agreement on tariffs and trade during the recent Cyprus summit? Will he find time today to contact the French members of the European Commission and tell them to spend less time worrying about creating a federal Europe and more time trying to persuade their Government to sign up to GATT?

The Prime Minister : We had a substantial discussion on the Uruguay round at the Heads of Government meeting in Cyprus over the past few days. What was striking about it was that with some 50 countries there--some large and some small, some agricultural and some industrial--from every part of the globe, there was total unanimity on the desirability of agreement in the trade talks, and agreement by 15 December this year. We agreed at the summit to dispatch a small mission of Ministers from countries in different parts of the Commonwealth to call in on a number of capitals and make it clear how important we consider the trade talks to be.

Mr. Ashdown : The Prime Minister will know that he has the backing of those in all parts of the House in his call for restraint to break the vicious cycle of tragedy and violence in Northern Ireland. He is right in saying that no British Government should ever be prepared to speak to those who will not abandon the bullet and the bomb. But does not effective action against terrorism also depend on the proper co-ordination of intelligence? Does the Prime Minister recognise that confusion between intelligence gatherers in Northern Ireland, and the fact that there are two lead agencies, on the mainland and in Northern Ireland, may lead--as it has in the past--to rivalry and squabbling, which undermine the battle against terrorism? Will the Prime Minister address that matter?

The Prime Minister : We keep our counter-terrorist arrangements under very close review. The Security Service now devotes around 40 per cent. of its total effort specifically to countering Irish terrorism. There have been considerable successes, although it is in the nature of these matters that the successes are not often public, whereas the failures are all too public.

I have looked at the question again in recent months, and I must say to the right hon. Gentleman that I am not persuaded that the creation of a new single national authority would of itself enhance the fight against terrorism. There is, I think, a danger that it would add yet another link in the chain of command. But I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I consider the effectiveness of our counter-intelligence to be vital and keep it constantly under review.


Q3. Mr. French : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 26 October.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. French : Does my right hon. Friend agree that police officers should not be hampered in their fight against crime by the burden of excessive bureaucracy and paperwork? Will he join me in congratulating the Home Secretary on his announcement that the amount of form filling will be seriously cut?

The Prime Minister : I can agree not only with my hon. Friend and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, but with the recommendations of the Sheehy report in this respect. Like all right hon. and hon. Members, I want to see police officers fighting crime on the streets, not dealing with paperwork in their offices. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary last week accepted proposals which, once fully implemented, will cut paperwork in half. They will also put something like 2,300 policemen back on the streets, where all of us wish to see them.

Mr. Donohoe : Will the Prime Minister explain why the Government are this week to announce the winding up of the development corporation in my constituency, at a cost of £16.5 million, given that we have had announcements of some 700 job losses at Jetstream in Prestwick this month and of some 320 job losses in my constituency today? What logic is there behind the Government's decision?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will know that, uniquely in western Europe at the moment, we are now in a position where unemployment has stabilised and is gently beginning to fall. In case the hon. Gentleman has not noticed, unemployment has fallen in six of the last eight months, by a total of 84,000. It is falling against a trend of rising unemployment elsewhere across the European Community and it is now below the European average, despite the predictions of some Opposition Members some months ago. The hon. Gentleman might have addressed the reality of what is happening for once.


Fishing Industry

Q4. Mr. Steen : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make an official visit to Brixham, south Devon, to discuss the future of the fishing and shellfish industry.

The Prime Minister : I have no immediate plans to do so. However, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has made widespread visits to ports, including Brixham, to consult fishermen.

Mr. Steen : The people of Brixham are well aware of the Government's commitment to the west country, what with assisted area status for Torbay and an application to the European fund for 5b status for Brixham. But when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister comes to Brixham, will he meet fishermen and assure them that he will not be pushed around by the Portuguese or Spanish, who want to seize our fishing stock and want more fish from our sovereign waters? Will he tell fishermen that he will not introduce a conservation measure until other European countries have similar conservation measures and until their policing of them is as good as ours? Finally, will he  take a cup of tea at the Melville hotel so that he hear from Brixham's hoteliers that if he reduced rules and regulations on the hotel industry it would do more for tourism than anything else?

The Prime Minister : I will look forward not only to a cup of tea but, I suspect, something stronger by the time we have dealt with that agenda. I recognise the industry's concern about access for Spanish and Portuguese vessels. The Commission's proposals for rules from 1996 have now been announced, and we have made it clear that they must not lead to an increase in fishing effort. I attach great importance to strict observance of Community rules, including quotas. We therefore welcome the control regulations, which will help to ensure consistent enforcement. One of the areas of the Maastricht treaty perhaps not generally recognised by everyone is that it now gives greater power to ensure that everyone across the Community obeys Community regulations and can face substantial fines if they do not do so. [Interruption.] Hon. Members below the Gangway may scoff. They simply prove, as I have always suspected, that they have never read or understood the Maastricht treaty.

Madam Speaker : I now call Mr. Jim Marshall : it is a closed question.

Mr. Jim Marshall : Does the Prime Minister recall the speech that the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) made on 9 November 1990, in which he said that the British Government have no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland

Madam Speaker : Order. I indicated to the hon. Gentleman that it is a closed question. It deals with Brixham, south Devon and the fishing industry. We must move on to Mr. David Sumberg.


Engagements

Q5. Mr. Sumberg : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 26 October.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Sumberg : Is my right hon. Friend aware of a proposal by the Department of Transport to build a new six-lane motorway adjacent to the existing eight-lane M62, which cuts through my constituency? This proposal would involve the demolition of more than 350 homes. It is creating widespread housing and planning blight and is regarded by me and the whole community as an environmental disaster. Will my right hon. Friend tell the Department of Transport to withdraw the proposals forthwith?

The Prime Minister : I understand the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend and I know how vigorous he has been in expressing them on behalf of his constituents. I can undertake that the Department of Transport will take into account the views that have been expressed to me by my hon. Friend, and those of his constituents.


Q7. Sir John Hannam : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 26 October.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Sir John Hannam : Given my right hon. Friend's support and commitment to the people of the south-west, can he give any encouragement to our wish to see a slowing down in the programme of implementation of EC water directives and a lowering of future water charges for the hard- pressed people of Devon and Cornwall?

The Prime Minister : As I think my hon. Friend knows, we are seeing what scope there is to apply the directives more flexibly and to minimise the cost that would otherwise fall on the water user in the south-west. We are therefore inviting our Community partners to re-examine priorities in the detailed implementation of the urban waste water treatment directive and also to consider whether the timetable for meeting the obligations is consistent with the current economic conditions in the Community. There is no quick or simple answer to this matter, but I can assure my hon. Friend that we are continuing to explore all avenues to try to minimise the costs that would otherwise arise.


Q8. Mr. Boyce : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 26 October.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Boyce : The Prime Minister talks about a recovery being under way, led by this country. How can he tell us that we must face reality when, in reality, jobs are haemorrhaging in our constituencies every day? The Prime Minister is aware that a steel works is to close in my constituency, with the loss of 260 jobs carried out by the most flexible operatives in the country, if not the world. What words of comfort has the Prime Minister for those people who have been thrown on the scrap heap?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that unemployment is falling in this country, whereas it is not falling in other countries. Unemployment fell last month among both men and women in every region and in every part of the country. That month's decrease confirms the underlying strength of the economy. As the hon. Gentleman perhaps does not know, long-term unemployment has fallen over the last six months ; long- term unemployment over longer periods has fallen ; vacancies have risen ; and the work force in employment have also risen. There is still a long way to go to get unemployment at the levels we would wish to see, but those Opposition Members who were keen to forecast 3.5 million unemployment just a few months ago had better stand up and admit now that it is under 3 million and falling.